Taking a holistic view of SEO in parts.

August 27, 2009

Topics: Web Development.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article addressing the differences between working in a search engine friendly manner and working on search engine optimization. That article talked extensively about what is included in optimization which is not necessarily a part of being search engine friendly.

Shari Thurow, a well-respected researcher in the search engine optimization and usability realm, suggested that separating the two concepts is, in fact, ridiculous.

Well, that may be. However, I think that it’s crucial to break a task into parts if you want to gain a thorough understanding of the whole. Search engine marketing is an excellent example of a whole which is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

As I see it, building a search engine friendly site is one of the first stages of best practice search marketing. The adage “if you build it, they will come” fails to hold, however: a site which is constructed merely to be search engine friendly will gain little to no traffic.

Being part of the process

Being search engine friendly is a part of the process of search engine optimization; which is, itself, a part of the process of search engine marketing. In addition to these two aspects, search engine marketing may also include pay-per-click advertising, print advertising, link building and social media participation. Search engine marketing is a large area, and very, very few people are expert in all aspects. I’m certainly not.

From a marketing standpoint, what parts of this marketing whole are necessary for your business to succeed is going to vary radically depending on your industry and the way your business intersects with the internet. It will also depend on your definition of success. If you’re looking to maximize growth, you’ll probably want to be investing in all aspects of marketing.

So I’m arguing that search marketing, while clearly a practice in which the parts of the whole are highly interwoven and carry clear dependencies on each other, can nonetheless be separated into it’s component parts for a variety of reasons, including for the sake of discussion.

Now let me take this a step further. Not only is it possible to separate search engine marketing into separate aspects for discussion, it’s valuable.

If you want to understand the interactions between the different aspects of a task, it’s important to have some information about all parts. In this context, it’s necessary to treat the whole of search engine marketing in a given discussion. However, when you want to understand the details of a specific task, it’s important to stay focused on your part of that task.

It’s necessary for practitioners in search engine marketing to know, in general, what the impact their work will be on all aspects of the marketing campaign. It is crucial for practitioners in search marketing to know, in detail, exactly how to perform their own tasks in the best possible manner for their clients. It’s important to treat an area of expertise specifically. Talking through the nature of that area; comparing and contrasting it to other related areas; considering the specific nature of tasks within that area of expertise: these are all ways of better defining and refining knowledge on a specific subject.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t, really. It’s all semantics. Search engine optimization is the commonly known term, and it frequently is understood to encapsulate search engine marketing. Or the other way around. The industries around search engines and marketing (and just about anything internet) are young, and the vocabularies aren’t really all the firmly established. As a result, some people have a very firm opinion of what a given term means which may not always coincide with others definitions.

Well, that’s why we write about it. We’re all hoping that our definitions will ultimately win. 😉

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5 Comments on “Taking a holistic view of SEO in parts.”

  1. I agree, speaking of mind numbing, this argument can numb minds with the best of ’em.

  2. Search-engine friendly design is designing for people who use search engines. Ignore the “people? aspect? Well then, IMHO, then you and a lot of people just do not understand search-engine friendly design.

    You appear to insist on having an argument based solely on a semantic difference between your definition of “Search Engine Friendly” and mine. Fine.

    Being that “Search Engine Friendly” doesn’t have any established dictionary definition, this is a purely specious argument.

    You are assuming that, because I don’t include searcher behaviors and user behaviors in my definition of search engine friendly that this is an area I ignore. That is patently ridiculous. I don’t engage in certain aspects of development for the very simple reason that there are many people out there who not only do these tasks better than I do, they actually enjoy them.

    Why should I take on keyword research for a client if I find it mind-numbingly boring? There’s a reason that web site development is usually a team effort.

    I stand by my argument. You stand by yours. The arguments are absurd, on both sides, because they’re entirely based on a difference of definition, not a difference of opinion.

    I agree absolutely that designing for users of search engines is important.

    I do not, however, agree that this fact necessarily must be part of the definition of the phrase “Search Engine Friendly.”

    Get over it.

  3. Hello again. I still disagree with you.

    I understand that many “search-engine friendly” designers/developers only develop sites that accommodate Web search engines in terms of crawlability and indexation. And for many years, that is what these self-labeled experts have been trying to promote as search-engine friendly design. And honestly, Joe? It seems like you fell for it.

    I have been saying it since 1995. And I am still saying it now. Search-engine friendly design is not designing for search engines only. It is designing for people who use commercial Web search engines and site search engines.

    And that means accommodating more than crawlability and indexation. It means accommodating searchers.

    If you (and others) continue to only see search-engine friendly design from the “technical aspect”? Well, I think that is just plain sad. It is doing the industry a disservice.

    Maybe you just don’t have the frame of reference (context) and history in the industry that I have.

    Search-engine friendly design is designing for people who use search engines. Ignore the “people” aspect? Well then, IMHO, then you and a lot of people just do not understand search-engine friendly design.

  4. That’s one way of looking at it. Alternately, constructing a search engine friendly web site is a first step towards conducting SEO on a site.

    An important part of this “debate” is probably wrapped up in what it means to be friendly to a search engine. I view it from a technical perspective: “friendly” means that the search engine is capable of identifying, separating, and indexing all elements of a web site. Everything which should be unique is unique. To go beyond that, in my mind, is performing optimization.

  5. SEO is working towards to make the site more search engine friendly right?